The language of touch

Slowly, with hesitation, she extends her blue veined hand. I reach to offer mine but she gently pushes it away. There is only one hand she will take and that is of the man she married sixty-three years ago. In total sync, they sway and shuffle together as one unit towards the door. How many times has this pair entered into a journey with clasped hands; their fingers entwined? She was his war bride. He was her American hero, rescuing her from a battle torn village. Six and half decades ago it was his outstretched calloused hands that enveloped her dainty fingers providing the security and safety that she still needs now as her life comes to an end. There is no fear in her eyes as they make their unsteady way. She knows through the conversation of touch that all is well and she will be safe.
I was a deaf mute when it came to touch. I did not feel comfortable with anyone putting their hand on me, even in friendship or love. I would cringe if someone would reach to pat my arm while emphasizing a point in conversation. A gentle arm draped on my shoulder was like the heavy yoke of oxen. The act of hugging was foreign and uncomfortable as my dysfunctional family did not have demonstrative practices. They frowned and would avoid any attempt made as if the hugger had a contagious disease. In my early years, family tradition dictated that the children were sequestered off and under the care of a hired care giver. As a young girl, I was often fostered off on my older siblings who resented the infraction on their lives. There was little if no physical nurturing.
By the time I was old enough to understand the implications of touch, I was frozen. My skin was stone, rough and unfeeling. I accepted it. I knew nothing else.
I floated through the years of free love but for me the cost was too high. While touching was a prevalent as breathing, I cloistered myself in avoidance. I would prepare for romance and sexual entanglements by numbing myself to oblivion. The fear was too much. The sensations that should have brought rapture were torture.
Now with the help of my guide, I am learning to chip away the stone. Unfortunately, the cracks and fissures are painful as I realize what I have missed. I never had a child to hold to my breast. As a deep romantic, I wonder how many connections I did not make for fear of intimacy. I understand the quizzical looks as I still flinch or cringe at someone’s innocent hand resting on my arm. I am still awkward as I embrace in a hug. The love and compassion is there, but the ease of contact is not.
I used to be envious of girls in high school who in sweet friendship would wrap arms together as they walked. At teenage slumber parties, I would seclude myself to a lone chair as my friends would entangle themselves in a heap to watch TV. I still watch couples tap and touch in syncopation to their intimate conversations. So much being said with their hands that is not for anyone else’s ears. I stare at mothers nestling their babes in their arms or abating a youngster’s fears with the protection of their embrace.
I am willing myself to reach out and touch more. It is not something I automatically do. I have to plan my approach quite often.But I do find that when I feel safe, I am leaning in more and allowing contact with those I love. I am blessed that I have close friends who do not anticipate or expect physical contact from me. But will show their delight when now I hug and embrace. They too lean in as we talk and will not remove their hands even if I do flinch. They know I need a moment of safety to sense their contact, and then I am fine.
Touch is much like a foreign language I am learning but in which I am still not fluent. I stumble and trip on the nuances and implications. My dialect is not perfected. My joy is in the fact I am so now willing to learn and I see promise.


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